Inhibitors of cyclooxygenases: mechanisms, selectivity and uses

J Physiol Pharmacol. 2006 Nov;57 Suppl 5:113-24.


The prostaglandins are lipid mediators, discovered in the 1930s by von Euler in Sweden and Goldblatt in the United Kingdom. They are made by the bifunctional enzyme, cyclooxygenase, which has both cyclooxygenase and peroxidase activities in the same molecule. Prostaglandins are involved in physiological functions such as protection of the stomach mucosa, aggregation of platelets and regulation of kidney function. They also have pathological functions such as their involvement in inflammation, fever and pain. Vane in 1971 elegantly showed that the pharmacological actions of aspirin and similar drugs were due to the inhibition of cyclooxygenase. Thus, aspirin-like drugs exert their anti-inflammatory, antipyretic and analgesic effects by inhibition of cyclooxygenase. In 1991, Simmons and his colleagues identified a second cyclooxygenase enzyme, designated cyclooxygenase-2, derived from a separate gene from cyclooxygenase-1. Cyclooxygenase-2 is upregulated by inflammatory mediators and forms prostaglandins which intensify the inflammatory response. Cyclooxygenase-1 is, therefore, a 'housekeeping' enzyme making prostaglandins, which are important for maintaining physiological functions and cyclooxygenase-2 makes prostaglandins which are important in inflammation. The discovery of cyclooxygenase-2 and the establishment of its structure led to the development of selective inhibitors of this enzyme, such as celecoxib and rofecoxib, with potent anti-inflammatory actions but with reduced gastrotoxic effects. A putative cyclooxygenase-3, has also been characterised and cloned. This enzyme is a product of the cyclooxygenase-1 gene, but retains intron 1 after transcription and translates into a cyclooxygenase enzyme with 34 additional amino acids. It is more sensitive to inhibition by paracetamol, aspirin and some other non-steroid anti-inflammatory drugs than cyclooxygenase-1 or cyclooxygenase-2. A cyclooxygenase enzyme induced in cultured cells by some non-steroid anti-inflammatory drugs is also more sensitive to inhibition by paracetamol than cyclooxygenase-2 induced by bacterial lipopolysaccharide.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents, Non-Steroidal / pharmacology
  • Cyclooxygenase 1 / metabolism
  • Cyclooxygenase 2 / metabolism
  • Cyclooxygenase Inhibitors / pharmacology*
  • Humans
  • Prostaglandin-Endoperoxide Synthases / metabolism


  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents, Non-Steroidal
  • Cyclooxygenase Inhibitors
  • Cyclooxygenase 1
  • Cyclooxygenase 2
  • Prostaglandin-Endoperoxide Synthases
  • cyclooxygenase-3